The inspiration of Amandine Renaud, Primatologist
Amandine Renaud, founder of P-WAC, took a moment to speak with us about her life and inspiration. Find out what motivates this passionate primatologist and PhD student in anthropology, who is dedicated to great apes conservation.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I have always been attracted to the animal world and the forest. I remember that I heckled the neighbors who were hanging on the tree branches, afraid that is was painful. I wanted to work with animals and nature, and I went through several phases, but one thing is certain, it was necessary that my job be interesting, useful, and related to the preservation of nature.
Why and how did you get started in your field of work?
According to my family, it seems that my desire to live in the forest with monkeys goes back to the time when I saw the movie “Gorillas in the Mist”, a movie about the life of Dian Fossey. I must have been 7 years old. But I do not have any real memories of this event which would have pushed me to say “that’s what I want to do”. Having failed to follow scientific studies, I turned to finance, an area that taught me a lot about rigor and budgeting. This experience of my life was important because, thanks to this work, I was able to pay for my travels and later my studies. It is when I was 22 years old that I set foot in the land of the “hairy” as I call them. I went on a voluntary mission to Africa, and there I felt in love with chimpanzees. They taught me so much, not to say everything, about the world of primates that I knew my life was destined to be among them! After that mission, I finished my studies by correspondence while working in finance, until I entered a prestigious university in England to become a Primatologist (that diploma does not exist in France)..
What inspired you to dedicate your life to primatology, and now to natural anthropology?
I first studied psychology and then primatology. These two disciplines are complementary because we too are primates! I then choose to study the anthropology of nature to understand human-wildlife relations, which is necessary for the implementation of strategies for the preservation of species threatened by humans. These three areas are interconnected : we study man, monkey, apes, and their interactions so we all live better in harmony. The circle is complete ! Despite this university course, I have decided to leave the research aside, and to focus on what is really important to me : the in situ protection of primates and their natural habitat and to set up concrete actions to preserve chimpanzees, with the involvement of local communities.
What’s a normal day like for you?
I do not have a typical day because, in the forest, no day is alike. I can observe the orphans at the site, deal with any illnesses, help the staff monitor wildlife or plant trees in the camp, meet the villagers to work with them on various projects, or I can spend my whole day in the office to look for funds, to update our followers on our social networks, to write reports, to look for partners … I also give conferences, all public or presentations for children. Finally, I manage the center’s logistics, the hazards of the field, the local staff, etc. It is quite a complete job !
What’s been your favourite experience in the field? The most challenging?
My biggest challenge is to achieve my goal of giving freedom to our orphans. And this will not be done in a day … but in several years. It is necessary to establish partnerships with the authorities and villagers, to succeed in touching them, to raise their awareness, and to involve them in the protection of the forests they see as eternal. Each day is a challenge! Of course, there are significant moments that help me move forward in case of hard times. Like seeing our apes that have arrived in a dreadful state recover their love of life, playing in trees, or integrating into the group of monkeys…
What are your other passions?
Ballet. Even in the depths of the forest I make my dance bar! Admirable teachers have given me this passion by teaching me their love of a very difficult discipline that requires rigor, investment, gift of self and work.
If you could have people do one thing to help create a more sustainable future for other primates, what would it be?
I would like people to stop SAYING that they are doing something for planet, and on the contrary see them DOING something concrete. We live in a superficial society where appearance rules. Let’s stop thinking about solutions “potentially conceivable eventually” or solutions that have no meaning for the planet. Let’s choose sustainable solutions where ecology and nature are taken into account. We are not above nature : we are part of it. It is up to us to reconsider our place in this world and to act, before it is too late, to preserve it. If more conservationists and governments actually act instead of meeting to think about potential future solutions in the next 10, 20 years, which is too late, and if the money spent on these meetings could be invested straight in the field, then biodiversity would have a chance.
Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.” Most people are aware of what is happening but think they can not do anything alone, or they are waiting for governments to move first. Stop procrastinating and say that the suffering of animals is unbearable. Let’s stop lying to ourselves and pretend that it’s up to others to change. Who are the others ? If we unite, we will make a difference.